16 Jan 2014

Should Lord Rennard apologise? ‘No’ says advisor

Lord Rennard’s friend and advisor Lord Carlile tells Channel 4 News that the Liberal Democrat peer will not apologise to women he was accused of sexually harassing.

Lord Carlile, who was Lord Rennard’s legal advisor throughout the disciplinary process, responded to Cathy Newman’s question asking whether he will apologise saying “No, and why should he”.

He said Chris Rennard should not have to make any apology until he had been allowed to see the report of Alistair Webster QC, who had reviewed if a charge under Lib Dem disciplinary procedures should be brought.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has ruled out Lord Rennard making a political comeback.

Despite a decision by Alistair Webster QC not to pursue a disciplinary hearing into the allegations, the deputy prime minister said on Wednesday that the former party chief executive would play no role in the 2015 election campaign.

Mr Webster had been carrying out inquiries for several months – first reported on Channel 4 News – that the senior Lib Dem peer had abused his power by behaving inappropriately towards women.

Read more: no disciplinary hearing for Lord Rennard

Mr Clegg said there was broadly credible evidence of “behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants” but it was “unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way”.

'We allowed it to fester' - Lib Dem President Tim Farron speaks to Channel 4 News

He added: “People in positions of authority should never subject anyone to behaviour which is offensive or inappropriate. It is as simple as that.

But speaking exclusively to Channel 4 News, two of the women who accused Lord Rennard of sexual impropriety reacted angrily to the decision not to discipline him.

Alison Goldsworthy said Nick Clegg and party president Tim Farron “could have been a lot stronger and faced with the option of taking a difficult decision and pushing it forward to disciplinary action, or not doing anything, they took the cowards way out and chose not to do anything.”

Bridget Harris said “They know what happened, we know we’re not lying, and so we’ve ended up with a situation where the party has said it is acceptable for somebody like Lord Rennard to have done the things that we are claiming that he has done. It’s acceptable to still have him as a member of the party. For me that’s not good enough. And it’s not good enough for me to carry on being a member of that party.”

Earlier Nick Clegg had said:

“I want everyone to be treated with respect in the Liberal Democrats. That is why it is right that Chris Rennard has been asked in the report to apologise, to reflect on his behaviour and why he won’t be playing any role in my general election plans for the campaign in 2015.”

Proceedings dropped

Lord Rennard, who had strenuously denied the allegations, had expressed a hope of resuming his roles within the party after the decision to drop disciplinary proceedings.

The investigation by Mr Webster followed a decision by the Metropolitan Police last year not to press charges against Lord Rennard.

The experienced criminal barrister was asked to investigate whether Lord Rennard should face a disciplinary hearing charged with acting in a way which brought the party into disrepute, which could ultimately have led to him being thrown out of the Lib Dems.

People in positions of authority should never subject anyone to behaviour which is offensive or inappropriate – Nick Clegg

Mr Webster said: “My view, judging the evidence as a whole, is that there is a less than 50 per cent chance that a charge against Lord Rennard could be proved to the requisite standard.

“In my opinion, the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible. However, it is my judgment, considering all of the evidence collected, that it is unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way. Without proof of such an intention, I do not consider that such a charge would be tenable.”

Disciplinary review

He suggested Lord Rennard should apologise and make a “commitment to change his behaviour in future”.

Mr Clegg said: “It’s clear in the report that a number of women in the Liberal Democrats were subject to behaviour by someone who had a position of considerable authority which caused them real distress.

“That should not have happened and I, as leader of the Liberal Democrats, want to apologise to each and every one of those women again.”

He added that party president Tim Farron was now reviewing its disciplinary procedures “from top to toe”.

“The fact that no steps have been taken is related to the way in which the disciplinary procedures are presently designed,” Mr Clegg said.

Read more: Lib Dems - allegations of sexual impropriety

“I am not content with the fact that a report concludes that – while of course we should respect the outcome of the report – that nonetheless the system is such that someone has been asked to apologise, distress has been caused, and yet there are no sanctions which can be applied.”

Mr Clegg said the party’s rules had been “found wanting, clearly these women were not being listened to early enough and that is why they do deserve an apology, not least, as this report has recommended, from Chris Rennard himself”.

Lord Rennard said he remained “committed to the same values” which led him to join the Liberal Party as a teenager and welcomed the end of the process, which had begun almost a year ago.